Vancouver Canucks icon Trevor Linden hates NHL lockout as a fan, past NHLPA president
Hastings hero returns to Pacific Coliseum on Saturday
VANCOUVER — He was a hero on Hastings Street a long time ago, but the Vancouver Giants will formalize that honour for Trevor Linden before their junior game Saturday night at the Pacific Coliseum.
The 42-year-old — and, yes, that number is hard to believe because what does that make us? — was heroic in several ways during his hockey career, most importantly for his devotion as a Vancouver Canuck to charity and community. It wasn’t a computer glitch or patronage that earned Linden The Order of Canada a couple of years ago.
He should have been honoured for saving the National Hockey League eight years ago, working through back channels to broker peace and build an exit lane from a destructive dispute that scuttled the 2004-05 season. Instead, Linden was vilified by some as the traitor who toppled NHL Players’ Association czar Bob Goodenow and “caved” to league owners, who got their salary cap.
Caved? Really? After a full season lost and no end in sight to the labour war? How many winters without the NHL needed to pass in Canada before it would have been honourable to devise a Plan B?
It was clear then, as it is now, that not enough owners care enough about hockey and its fans to view the NHL as anything other than a business to enrich themselves.
Not only did Linden, as the union president, get the NHL back on the ice, the NHLPA just about ran the table on contract items. The players’ “defeat” was so complete they collected $12 billion US in salaries over the life of a Collective Bargaining Agreement that enabled owners to generate record revenues and dramatically escalate the value of their franchises, as evidenced by Forbes’ current valuation of the Canucks at $342 million and the Toronto Maple Leafs at $1 billion.
The owners, led by their commissioner-general Gary Bettman, are at war again with players because their “victory” last time didn’t quite work out as expected.
Unfortunately, not only is Linden not involved this time, there is no player with his former stature or title to work behind the scenes for a resolution. The NHLPA, during its gong-show period after Linden left, restructured and eliminated the role of player-president.
Instead of that check-and-balance in the system, executive director Donald Fehr was allowed to hire little brother Steve as his top deputy in the NHLPA. And instead of a small, president-led player executive providing oversight, 31 players from a negotiating committee rotate in and out of bargaining sessions and any of the other 700 union members can sit in whenever they wish. With so many people in a charge, no one is in charge, except Fehr.
Linden hasn’t anything to say about this.
“I hate what is happening to the game, just like every fan does,” he said Wednesday. “But I’m just a fan now; I can’t offer any insights. I realize how hard it is on the people involved and how much people are missing hockey. Like everyone else, I hope to see the NHL back soon. But nothing I can say is going to help the sides reach an agreement. It isn’t my fight any more.”
Linden has other negotiations to worry about. Linden’s Club 16 fitness chain is opening a fourth branch in Surrey to go with gyms in Coquitlam, Burnaby and downtown Vancouver. He has real-estate development projects in Victoria and Kitsilano and is in demand as a corporate speaker.
Four years since his retirement as a Canuck, Linden continues to chase adventure. He competed in a Germany-to-Italy bike race last summer, did cycling trips to Bend, Ore., and Santa Cruz, Calif., in the fall and is planning a spring race in the Alps, where he will ski-hike from Chamonix, France, to Zermatt in Switzerland.
Somehow there wasn’t time for that when he played, and he wouldn’t have time for it now if he worked in hockey management or operations. He has had opportunities to pursue NHL jobs, but isn’t willing to leave Vancouver or give his life back to hockey.
He’s looking forward to seeing the Giants play the Tri-City Americans on Saturday. The Giants are honouring him as part of the Western Hockey League club’s Heroes of Hastings series.
“I’ll never forget the first time I was there,” Linden said of the Coliseum, where he played seven seasons before the Canucks moved downtown. “It was the summertime after I was drafted and I came out in July for a camp. I had to go to the Coliseum to get equipment ... and just across from the dressing room were storerooms. They had all this equipment in there; I’d never seen anything that incredible in my life. It was brand new equipment and I could take anything I wanted.
“This was the NHL! I couldn’t believe it. Then walking out into the bowl, to be in a rink that big was really cool. I was just so in awe of the big rink.”
He seemed suited to the big stage, in hockey and beyond.
His dream as a boy was to play in the WHL.
Linden was part of the Medicine Hat Tigers’ dynasty in the late ’80s, when his hometown team won back-to-back Memorial Cups. The Canucks drafted him second overall in 1988.
“Growing up in the 1970s, there was no Edmonton Oilers, no Calgary Flames and the NHL was a TV show on Saturday night,” Linden recalled. “But the Medicine Hat Tigers, they were real. I remember going to my grandpa’s house and he had an actual Medicine Hat Tigers’ puck, which I was blown away with. My aunt told me she saw Kelly Hrudey at a movie once and I didn’t believe it. I actually thought these guys didn’t really exist, they just lived at the arena. My dream was to play for the Tigers.”
Linden overshot his goal a little bit.
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